Having dismissed one of Atlanta's pre-eminent defense attorneys in order to defend himself on charges of aiding and abetting terrorists, Ehsanul Islam Sadequee on Thursday spent hours cross-examining his convicted co-defendant, eliciting testimony that seemed to bolster prosecutors' charges.
Sadequee's wide-ranging cross-examination of former Georgia Tech student Syed Haris Ahmed -- convicted after a June bench trial before U.S. District Judge William S. Duffey Jr. in Atlanta of conspiracy to aid and abet terrorists -- did little to refute prosecutors' contentions that the two men planned to enlist with a terrorist organization abroad and launch attacks against strategic government installations and other sites in the United States.
Both men have contended that their conversations about jihad were harmless talk that never led to any real plans involving terrorism, but prosecutors have said the young men's activities and support of terrorism posed a threat to the United States.
Ahmed's replies seemed to reveal a strong desire on Sadequee's part to join with Muslim jihadists in Canada who were later charged with a plot to blow up Canada's Parliament. Sadequee's questions also illuminated an underlying philosophy that he appeared to have embraced that identified the U.S. government and its economic system and the media as instruments of the antichrist.
Sadequee's decision at this late date to defend himself at trial -- forgoing counsel of Atlanta attorney Donald F. Samuel of Garland, Samuel & Loeb and Miami attorney Khurrum B. Wahid -- and Ahmed's decision to testify -- surprised both defendants' attorneys.
Samuel has represented Sadequee since July 25, 2006. At that time, Sadequee -- then 19 and an American by birth whose family, originally from Bangladesh, was then living in Roswell, Ga. -- was in custody in New York after having been picked up by local authorities in Bangladesh and returned to the United States. He was initially accused of making false statements to federal authorities in New York about the reasons for his trip. Wahid, a Muslim defense lawyer who has represented other defendants facing federal charges associated with alleged terrorist conspiracies, joined the case as co-counsel last fall. Both lawyers had no choice but to sit silently as Sadequee, during his cross-examination of Ahmed, expanded on a series of e-mails with fellow jihadists about plans to join a terrorist training camp and introduced to the jury a radical Muslim philosophy that, in part, had motivated their actions.
On Thursday, Samuel said that although Sadequee had talked about defending himself at trial for about six months, he did not inform his lawyers until Monday, the day the trial began, that he had decided to represent himself. Samuel said that Sadequee has said that "Allah told him he should speak for himself." Samuel added, "There were certain things he wanted to raise, certain moral issues." There were also questions that Sadequee wanted certain witnesses to address that Samuel said "we disagreed with." Samuel did not elaborate.
Ahmed's attorney, John R. "Jack" Martin, said that he did not know until Wednesday that Ahmed had agreed to testify as a government witness. "He did not want to testify," Martin said, but agreed to do so after federal prosecutors granted him immunity for any statements made as a witness.
Duffey has deferred sentencing Ahmed, 25, and sealed his findings of fact in the case until after Sadequee's jury trial is completed. In a June 10 order, Duffey found Ahmed guilty of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.
Both Ahmed and Sadequee, 22, have been in custody three years while their trials were pending.